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Our trustees

Maria Ahern

Maria Ahern (Chair)

James, my only child, died in a road accident in August 2014. He was 22.

As I searched for a way to acclimatise to a world without my son in it, I met The Compassionate Friends and quickly formed close and supportive friendships. I was initially asked to help organise a fund raising event for TCF and I was appointed a trustee and Company Secretary in November 2015.

Soon after James died, The James Ahern Foundation was created "Enabling the pursuit of passion". We raise funds and provide grants to help young people achieve their goals - a legacy for a compassionate young man who dedicated so much of his time to helping others.

Working for these two organisations is a rewarding way to honour my son's amazing, but short, life.

I started to write what have become known as "The Jamie Letters". These have become popular, even with people who didn't know James. I talk about him and find ways to include him in every new experience. I believe that we need to dispel the traditional approach to grief and to change common attitudes to bereavement.

Add a busy practice as a barrister and a spot of knitting and playing poker and you have a small picture of the woman who is first, last and foremost, proud to be Jamie's mum.

 

Sue Hughes (Vice Chair)

Sue Hughes pictureI lost my oldest son Joe, aged 11, in 2008 from a completely unexpected asthma attack. The first couple of years after this happened were the bleakest and most terrifying time that I could have ever imagined. Then I found The Compassionate Friends, and by chatting on their wonderful Forum and attending various TCF events, I found the support and comfort I needed. The friends I made through the organisation held my hand through the journey ahead, and are still with me today.

I became a trustee in December 2012 and am also a local contact, running two groups – one in North West London and one in South Bucks.

I work from home as a science journalist on a medical website, and I have taken on the public relations role for TCF. I have two other sons – Jack and Ben.

 

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller QC (Company Secretary)

I lost my son Fabian in a drug-related accident in January 2015. Fabian was only 19 years old. His death was totally unexpected and was one of those tragic accidents of youth that too many parents have to deal with.

It took a few months before I discovered The Compassionate Friends and I started attending TCF meetings about five months after Fabian’s death. I very quickly realised and appreciated the incredible help and comfort that I was able to get from other bereaved parents. Being involved with TCF brought a new form of familiarity and normality in what had quickly become a very unfamiliar and abnormal world.

Shortly thereafter I became involved in fund raising for the TCF concert in London in October 2015. At the end of 2015, following my attendance at the National Gathering, I was co-opted as a Trustee onto the TCF Board.

I am honored to be a trustee of such an amazing charity that has provided me and so many others with so much help and care and which shines a light of hope that we can all carry on our own individual journey. I am committed to spreading the knowledge and work of TCF to both the bereaved and non-bereaved.

I have been a commercial barrister in full time practice in London for 27 years.

 

Margaret Brearley

Dr Margaret Brearley

Our elder son, Joshua, died suddenly in 2002 aged 20, from SADS. Finding The Compassionate Friends brought gradual solace; we were not alone in our devastating anguish, but part of a huge extended family, united through shared grief. I still attend a wonderful TCF group, help organise the Gathering, and became a Trustee in 2014.

Because I know that friendships with other bereaved parents bring mutual comfort, build our resilience, and create hope, I am passionate about TCF. I also love occasionally to gather many bereaved parents for informal food-filled days in our home.

My background is academic, originally as mediaevalist, later working on Jewish-Christian relations, Roma/Gypsies, Holocaust, genocide; most recently, on therapies for torture survivors, and Richard Wagner’s ‘musical religion’.

Voluntary work has included creating the Kinmos day centre for mentally ill people in Birmingham, running a large ladies’ group supporting vulnerable women and children in Israel, building a school for dalit children in India, and supporting the local hospice and soup kitchen. Marriage to a busy musical surgeon leaves little time for hobbies other than cooking, reading, music and friendship.

 

George Burn

George Burn

I lost my brother, Billy, 2½ years ago, when he died aged 44 after losing a battle with an aggressive form of cancer. He and I were always close, and seeing him die early in life, and seeing the impact on my mother, my sister-in-law, my nieces and the broader family, has been both incredibly sad and incredibly important as a defining life experience. The support of various organisations, including TCF, has played a crucial role in helping us deal with our grief and come to terms with Billy’s absence. I would love to contribute to one of those organisations, in order to help others who have to go through the horrible experience of seeing a loved child or sibling die. I

As a lawyer with 20 years of experience, I have substantial technical legal ability that could be of use to TCF. I also have experience of working as a governor of two schools, one as chair of the governing body, and have experience of volunteering in roles for other organisations, I have knowledge that I think could also be of use to TCF.

The mission of TCF is to support bereaved parents and other close relatives; having seen the value of support organisations for those dealing with the pain occasioned by grief, that is a mission to which I would very much like to contribute. Trustee is a position of responsibility, with significant moral and legal obligations; I believe I have skills and experience that would enable me to meet that responsibility and in doing so help TCF and those that it supports.

 

Gina Claye

Gina Claye pictureMy elder daughter Nikki, died from suicide in 1987 when she was just 19. TCF was a lifeline. I went on a weekend for Survivors of Suicide and found that I was not alone – it was such a relief to be able to talk to others who had been through the same experience as me. I became involved in various TCF activities including taking part in radio interviews and breakfast TV.

Then in 2003 my son Robin, died from encephalitis aged 32 in Singapore where he was teaching. Because I was now grieving for a child of mine a second time I was able to recognise the stages of grief I was going through and, as a writer of adult and children’s fiction, I was able to express my grief in a bereavement book ‘Don’t Let Them Tell You How to Grieve’ which is now used by CRUSE Bereavement Care.

Since 2013 I have been on the National Gathering Committee and also the editor of “Compassion”, which I enjoy very much, especially the contact with contributors which it affords me.

 

Gill Hardy

George Burn

I became a member of TCF in 2015 after the death of our son Tom. He was 22 and his death was accidental, unexpected and unbearable.

We were introduced to TCF and although we found our first meeting very difficult, we felt a mutual understanding. The support and we have gained from TCF has been invaluable and I believe that, without TCF, we would be in a much darker place now. It gave us hope when we had none.

Our experiences have led me to realise that there is a significant lack of relevant bereavement support from health care professionals for bereaved families and it seems to us that TCF provides this. I would like to put something back into the organisation that has helped us and hope that my skills and experience might be of some value.

I have worked at Director level in the pharmaceutical industry for many years and have run my own successful medical communications business for 13 years where I specialise in strategic direction, communications and event management. This requires the ability to strike early rapport, foster relationships and reach a mutual understanding with people. Running a small business also means that I get involved in a wide range of tasks from delivering board room presentations to laying out meeting room materials and I pride myself on “getting stuck in” to do whatever is necessary to get a job done.

 

Jane Harris

Jane Harris picture

My son Josh died in a road traffic accident in 2011 in Vietnam, age 22 whilst on the holiday of a lifetime.It was not long after this this I was fortunate enough to discover The Compassionate Friends and I soon became involved in facilitating groups, giving presentations, offering counselling support as well as spreading the word about TCF on radio and TV.

In 2013 myself and Josh’s dad Jimmy, a BAFTA award winning film editor, were asked to make a film for The Compassionate Friends which would capture what being a bereaved parent or sibling is like. Say Their Name is the result and it is the only film available in this country made by bereaved parents for bereaved parents and siblings (see Home page to view this short film).

As a Trustee I am committed to raising awareness about a parents grief, and promoting an understanding of what it means to grieve in a society that often has difficulty talking about death dying and bereavement.

Last year myself and Josh’s dad launched THE GOOD GRIEF PROJECT dedicated to understanding grief as an active and creative process and have also just completed a feature documentary A Love That Never Dies which tells the story of our road trip across America and the bereaved parents and siblings we met on our journey. It will be in cinemas from spring 2018.

I am a senior accredited individual and couples therapist and supervisor with The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and live in Gloucestershire and am extremely fortunate to have a surviving daughter and a step son.

 

Jen Hughes

 

Sheila Phillips

George Burn

On the evening of 25 April 2013, my beloved son, Duncan Andrew Phillips came home from work as usual, had tea with his wife and two small sons, and left the house to join friends for a game of football. He did not return. Unbeknown to both himself and us, his family, Duncan’s heart muscle was diseased; he had inherited (apparently) a condition known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. His heart muscle had hardened and the cells of the muscle were disorganised. The exertion of sport was too much for it to cope with that evening and Duncan’s heart simply stopped beating.

The subsequent horror and despair at Duncan’s sudden death was, and remains, indescribable. I do not remember how I coped with day to day living for the first year, except to say that neighbours, friends and colleagues at work were tremendously supportive in the way that they approached us (my husband, myself and our daughter), invited us to meals and allowed us to cry.

In the Spring of 2015, Derek (my husband) and I attended a musical event at Wotton House in Buckinghamshire. There we met Dr Margaret Brearley who immediately gathered us in and tended our broken hearts with TCF understanding and sympathy. The relationship between TCF, Derek and I has been and continues to be one of emotional support, many willing and sympathetic listening ears, tenderness and compassion.

My working knowledge of accounting for charities, statutory reporting and awareness of what it means to be a charity trustee has been gained over more than 20 years. I welcome the opportunity of using these skills and experience in the furtherance of TCF aims and objectives which I heartily believe are so valuable in sharing the pain of and easing the burden for bereaved parents.

 

Nigel Taylor

Nigel Taylor pictureI was co-opted as Trustee in 2013 and am responsible for advising on and monitoring TCF’s finances. I graduated from the London School of Economics in 1984 and qualified as an actuary in 1987. From then until 1999 I was a partner in actuarial firms - first in Clay and Partners and then Lane Clark and Peacock.

In 1999 I left the actuarial world and joined UBS's fund management arm and ultimately headed its UK institutional side, which managed assets for pension funds and charities.

I retired from full time work in 2010 and have worked for a number of charities since then. I am not a bereaved parent but became involved with TCF when I saw the impact of the work the organisation does.

 

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